10 Things I haven’t been quiet about


I’ve had a few comments suggesting I haven’t been blogging much lately. When it comes to this blog and The Future Diaries I haven’t been prolific lately, but I’ve been pretty active on my SoLoMo Consulting blog.

So, if you’ve missed me, here are 10 things I’ve been writing about lately:

  1. Climate Change Refugees. This one on The Future Diaries where I was looking back from the future when all the expat Kiwis and anyone else that wanted a clean green, safe environment was hightailing it back to New Zealand. Interesting to see recent stats back up that notion with migration hitting a 9 year high with one of the biggest groups this year entering New Zealand was Kiwis who had been away for a long time. When fresh non-recycled water becomes a rare commodity, watch them all run to the bottom of the planet.

    Fresh drinking water that hasn't been recycled

    Fresh drinking water that hasn’t been recycled

  2. Usage Based Insurance. I’ve mostly called it PAYD or Pay As You Drive. This story today is about insurance companies using Fleet Management data to determine risk and charge premiums based on how safe commercial drivers, particularly freight companies drive. Makes sense doesn’t it. Fleet Management would also give insurance companies advanced and near real time geographic risk profiles.
  3. Planning your Thanksgiving travel. The weekend is upon us and it seems ironic that we get together to be thankful, but the process makes it one of the most stressful weekends on the American calendar.
  4. I’ve blogged a lot about your mobile knowing where you are and what you’re up to. Now your mobile is starting to know what building you’re in and which floor you are on and retailers want to know.
  5. 19 car manufacturers have got together to ensure that you don’t stop buying their cars because they have embraced location based services. You want the features but you don’t want to give up your privacy. This is becoming a very hot topic.
  6. Take away all the traffic lights and intersection controls and you end up with safer streets. Really? Well it seems to be working in some places.
  7. Hacking Traffic Systems. I copped some flack from a traffic engineer over this, who said it is an old story and DOT’s are way to smart to risk being hacked. Phew, I am very relieved. No illegal green-waves here!
  8. A smart car ITS corridor in Europe. It makes sense to try it somewhere. Driver-less cars should be tested in a safe environment first IMHO.
  9. How big do you think Virgin Atlantic’s new Google Glass check-in service will be at your local airport? It may be a breeze, but I think there will be a lot of breeze between people who will use it.
  10. There is always a story about someone who crashes their vehicle and says the GPS nav made me do it. Here’s one about a truck driver who drove into a public park in Milwaukee and blamed his nav.

So as you can see, my fingers haven’t been idle. Hopefully there’s at least one story here to attract your interest and maybe a comment.

Does Your Business Have CIPA? (Read Time 82 Seconds)


I’m just finishing the book Socialized by Mark Fidelman. It is one of the better books I have read of late about harnessing social media. Many of these books date very quickly, but the information in this 2012 book is still very relevant and I recommend you read a copy.

Socialized-book-coverTowards the end Mark relates the story of a girl who suffers from Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, aka CIPA. It was an analogy to businesses who are heading down the gurgler at a rate of knots and don’t even realize it. Those of you who read my blogs will know about how frustrated I was to see Borders self implode, when they didn’t need to. As I mentioned earlier this week, many businesses are being hurt but not realizing it, or not knowing what to do about it. It’s that frog in the pot of simmering water. We all know the story, but many of us are sitting in that pot, enjoying the warmth and then getting severely cooked.

In my experience, it is people who aren’t institutionalized in your business who you need to talk to. If it’s not consultants like myself, at least talk to your customers, the ones you have left. Ask them why they come to your business. What is it that drew them in and how can you give them what they want and stay profitable?. I had loads of answers for the book industry, but they ‘knew what they were doing”. They focused on best sellers, general merchandise goodies and even fluffy toys. The questions you need to ask have to be qualitative, don’t give them choices you think they should answer, have conversations with them. Or get out quick and sell your business to someone while it still has some value. I still maintain if I had been on the management team or board of Borders in NZ, they wouldn’t have floundered, they would have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of the past and their stores would be full of people, in many cases still buying paper. BORDER-CLOSED

Do does your business have CIPA? Are your margins declining, is your stock-turn going down? Are people buying similar products online instead of from you? Are your customers slowly churning to other sources or evolutions of the goods and services you offer? What have you done to future proof your business? As I said in my other blog earlier this week, people are reading more, listening to more music and taking more photos daily than ever before.

Got any questions? Feel free to leave them as comments and maybe we can have a discussion about this.

Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

A Good Read About Retail Book Stores and Glenfield Paper Plus


I was pleasantly surprised with some great service from Paper Plus in Glenfield this week and want to share the experience with you. Many book retailers complain that they can’t compete with online stores. Some like Borders might even see the fatalities as a  fait accomplis. I don’t agree.

Inside the Medium

Inside the Medium

So here’s what happened. I got an email from my daughter saying that Kelvin Cruickshank, the psychic medium was going  to be doing a book signing on Tuesday evening at Paper Plus, Glenfield at 6PM. That was too early for us and given that my wife is a big fan and it was her birthday yesterday, I rang to see if I could buy a book and get it autographed without going to the signing.

As an aside, one of the things that I used to love about Borders in the USA was book signings and the ability to even briefly meet authors. It’s not something that Borders in New Zealand ever did much of, in fact sometimes it seemed like the only things Borders in New Zealand had in common with the American stores I loved was the layout, encouragement to grab a book and take it into the in-store cafe and huge width of stock. It’s a shame they didn’t step outside of their business and listen to some of my ideas, because I think they could still be here and profitable, but that’s another story.

So, when I rang the Glenfield store, the response was “I’m sure we can do that for you.” I told them what I would like Kelvin to write with his autograph, gave them my credit card details so they knew I was bona fide.

I arrived yesterday to pick up the book and the two women behind the counter told me that they made sure it was the first thing Kelvin did when he arrived at the store to make sure it happened, because the line of people waiting to meet him and get a book signed was very long. We had a brief discussion and I was able t take away a gift that my wife was thrilled to receive. Having it signed to her, with her name spelled correctly elicited a smile that was priceless.

People are always quick to complain when they are not happy with retail service, but don’t often make an effort to recognise good service, so my Award for Great Service for the Week goes to the ladies at Paper Plus, Glenfield. I don’t live in the area, but I’ll go back in the future because these people care about their customers. They show a genuine interest, I don’t know if they are staff or have equity in the business (which is a franchise). If they are staff, my recommendation to the owners is to recognise them and hang on to them because it is people like that, who can make the difference between buying something online or going into the store. It is of course just one aspect of good retailing, but such a critical one. A great looking well stocked store with staff that don’t like their industry, their managers, or think of it as a just a job, is on a slippery slope.

What is a Blog and How do I Get One?


Everyone is talking about writing blogs. In the world of IT and in large companies, people are writing online. It might be newsletters, articles, pages on websites and of course social media. That’s all very well for people that like writing and can do it well, but what about busy people working in their SME business? What about people who are good at what they do but are not good at writing?

I’m not going to tell you in detail what a blog is. The web is full of explanations, Wikipedia, defines it as well as anyone here. A blog is effectively an easy tool to allow you to share your passion and message with the world. It’s a way to attract new clients, to share your knowledge, to engage with people with a common interest, a way to share stories.

A blog can contain photos, video, music, polls and much more. You can allow people to comment, you can create categories of information, add keywords to help people find your information when they are looking for what you have and much more. It is also chronological and that is very important. If you are going to blog, you need to be doing it regularly so that people know there will be new information coming. They can subscribe to it and get involved with you and your brand.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Why blog? If you don’t know the answer to that, skip the rest of this. If you have a bit of an idea, then start focusing on it. What is your end game? Do you want customers to buy your goods or services? Do you want to add value and inform people about things you are excited about? Do you want to raise your profile? Do you want new customers, or to keep existing ones? if you don’t have a goal, you’re going to have a pointless blog.
  2. Why would people read your blog? You don’t want to be preaching to the converted. You don’t want to be telling people what they already know, which a lot of blog writers do. If you are in business, what sort of questions do customers often ask you? Why do they come to you, I frequently hear people say their customers go to them because they have product knowledge. I would put it to you that if you have product knowledge, you have passion. People will read your blog for the same reason they do business with you, you have a common interest, you have helpful information and you care.
  3. How often should you blog? At least a couple of times a week or people will forget about you. Search engines will pick up on your blog is they see there is regular content and you will rise higher up the rankings and more people will find you. That might sound a lot, but they don’t have to be long. In fact any longer than this and people may well stop reading.
  4. What sort of writing style should you use? It needs to be easy to read, almost like having a conversation, but leave out the slang and the industry jargon. It also needs excellent spelling and grammar. This is a professional conversation.
  5. What should you write about? Keep it relevant to your goals and your target audience. When I was studying songwriting a common thread was write about what you know. As above, what do you know that will be useful to your reader?
  6. I want to write but I don’t have time. Then contact someone like me. You can email me at luigi@solomoconsulting.co.nz  I can get you started with your online writing and help you start the conversation.

Blogging is of course only one form of online content writing. There are newsletters, white papers, online magazines, websites and much more. What is great about a blog is that there are easy to use and often free tools. It is all kept in one place, but keeps growing. You can go back and add to stories, you can edit them if you want to. You also get analytics which means you can find out how many people are reading your blog and even what part of the world they come from. Once you get started it’s a lot of fun. Want to get started?

Here are a few blogs that I write. SoLoMo Consulting is all about Location Based Services. The Future Diaries is fiction of sorts with my futurist hat on. I pretend to be some years in the future talking about things that might be coming, mostly about technology. Imersia NZ is one I collaborate on with my colleagues at Imersia. I have more, but these will give you a bit of a mix, showing different ways of presenting information for different reasons. Of course you have already found this one, which comprises everything from technology to soapbox rants.

IS1380016f there is one final rule I would add, it would be have fun. So we have some empty chairs sitting there waiting to be filled by people who are interested in what you have to say. Let’s start the conversation:)

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

It’s Hard For Retailers To Embrace New Mobile Marketing Technology


I’ve been engaged in a conversation in a mobile marketing group LinkedIn discussion where people involved in solutions such as mobile coupons are complaining that retailers are intellectually lazy and not looking to embrace new technology.

I argued that most retailers focus on BAU (Business As Usual), working in their business employing strategies and technologies they have used for years, which they understand and can deal with. They do not spend anywhere near enough time working on their business, including strategies to embrace new technologies.

sold outMany retailers have been hurt by one-day deal companies, where they gave up 50% and more in GP in the hope that if they gave great service, they would win new loyal customers. Of course we now know that didn’t work and the only ones that made big money out of it were one-day deal companies. They didn’t have to invest in inventory or carry any risk to speak of.

I’ve presented at a number of conferences on the topic of mobile and location based marketing. What I found really sad was that of all the delegates, the number of retailers at these events could generally be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I’ve been looking at how I could help retailers, particularly in New Zealand and Australia with solutions available today in a cost effective way. I think I have come up with a solution, but its going to take me a fair amount of time and money to deliver.

I will start in the area of Travel and Tourism, largely because they are more focussed on customers who are actively looking for services and new experiences and the industry is used to investing to win new business. Their market is also tough and the traditional business services continue to largely support those who own the systems, ie reservation engines, directories, commissions to tour operators, rather than retailers themselves. These businesses are easier for me to access and easier to quantify direct ROI. Also the individual transactions often have a higher dollar value, so if I can demonstrably increase their cashflow and profit and share in the gain, I can recover my costs more quickly.

I was thinking about how hard it is to get retailers out of the shop to talk to them and from years of calling on owner operator retailers in the past, trying to talk to them in their own environment with customers in store, that’s all but impossible.

So I’m thinking retail readers, if there are any here, and would welcome your feedback on the best way to get in front of you and your peers. The problem is that most of them will never read this. The majority do not attend retail conferences, they don’t even participate in their own main-street organisations. They don’t even do something as simple as co-promote their neighbours. I remember years ago hearing Mark Blumsky (past retailer and Wellington Mayor) talk at the New Zealand Retailers Association conference about how he collaborated with his neighbours by giving away free coffee coupons at the next door cafe to people who bought shoes from him and the cafe gave discount coupons for shoes to their patrons. Leading retailers (because they were at the conference) all talked about it during the lunch and coffee breaks, but I don’t know if a single one of them ever emulated the exercise.

We have amazing free services such as Foursquare and people have probably used one of these apps to check into your store. They may even be your Foursquare Mayor, but you probably don’t even know what Foursquare is.

You need to embrace mobile technology and I want to help. But you’re probably not reading this, so you will have to wait until I have helped some other people first. If you are reading this, leave a comment, connect with me and others who want to see Australasian retailers thrive and grow in this exciting new world. Learn at your own pace, but please step outside of BAU and do something. One little step a day is 365 steps a year and that’s quite a lot.